Commentary: Has Bloomberg Gone Too Far With New Breastfeeding Initiative?

New program restricts newborns access to formula in participating local hospitals to promote mothers to breastfeed instead.

Posted: 08/06/2012 09:00 AM EDT

As a New Yorker for a decade, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to ban smoking in public places throughout New York City,  I was OK with that. Given the link between second-hand smoke and repository illnesses and lung cancer, no one should be forced to be stuck in a small space with cigarette smoke around them. And even recently, I somewhat understood when Bloomberg proposed a ban on the sale of 16oz. soda being sold in order to reduce the astounding obesity rates throughout the five boroughs.


But his new breastfeeding initiative, Latch on NYC, has me feeling very uneasy.


According to Time.com, under Bloomberg’s program, which starts in September, 27 of the 40 New York City’s hospital will put the lock down on formula — literally. Nurses are only allowed to give formula to babies for medical reasons or if a new mother specifically requests it. But those moms won’t be let off the hook: They will receive a mandatory lecture on why breast milk is best for their babies. Also gone are the days of formula ads being displayed in the hospital and mothers being sent home with free formula.


All of this to get the 75 percent of NYC mothers who stop breastfeeding after two months to go the distance and keep breastfeeding for the recommended six months.


And look, no one can deny that breast milk is better for babies.


Babies who are breast-fed are more resistant to developing ear infections and other diseases during infancy. They are also less likely to develop juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer before the age of 15. Even better, mothers benefit as well. Research suggests that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis (bone thinning) down the road, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily and have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Not to mention breastfeeding is free, formula is not.


Another undeniable fact is that African-American mothers are lagging way behind in the breastfeeding game.


In a recent study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 54 percent of Black mothers breastfed their infants after giving birth, compared with 74 percent of white mothers and 80 percent of Latina mothers. And after six months, only 27 percent of African-American mothers continued to breastfeed, compared with 43 percent of white mothers and 45 percent of Latina mothers.

And looking at these stats, I am all for programs that empower, encourage and educate mothers to breastfeed. We need more programs that are culturally competent and understand that not all mothers stop breastfeeding out of complacency and laziness. Programs also have to take into account that many jobs that women of color and working class women may have do not offer maternity leave, and when mothers get back to work early, they are not given paid breaks to nurse or pump milk.


And no, this Latch on NYC initiative doesn’t sound like anything of the above.


Sorry Bloomberg, locking up formula like it’s Vicodin and implicitly telling women that they are "bad mothers” if they don’t fall in line with Big Brother, is taking it way too far.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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